Alien houses: The priory of Welle or Well Hall in Gayton

Page 465

A History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1906.

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William de Streis, about the year 1081, bestowed the manor of Welle and the advowson of the church of St. Nicholas on the abbey of St. Stephen, Caen. The abbey established here a small priory or cell of Benedictine monks. The grant of the manor and church and other privileges was confirmed by William II, Henry II, and Richard I.

Herbert and Ralph occur as priors of this cell about the beginning of the thirteenth century. In 1275 the prior was found to hold the manor of Welle in free alms, with gallows, free warren, waif and stray, and assize of bread and beer. (fn. 2)

About this time the priory or cell of Welle was united with the small Essex priory of Panfield, which was also a cell of St. Stephen's, Caen. The prior was termed the prior of Panfield and Welle. Under this double designation the priory was found in the taxation of 1201 to hold in temporalities in Norfolk, meadow land in West Acre of the annual value of 3s., rents in Ashwicken £1 2s. 11d., rents in Leziate £3 17s. 8d., and rents, lands, mills, court perquisites in Gayton £23 9s. 2d., yielding a total of £28 12s. 9d. In addition to this the annual value of the appropriated rectory of Gayton was declared at £16.

In 1325 an extent or survey of the jury was taken by royal command. The jury declared that the abbot of St. Stephen's, Caen, was rector, and that the rectory was worth 24 marks per annum. The total value of the manor and church was £35 2s: 0½d.; but the prior of Castle Acre received therefrom 11 marks, leaving the clear amount at £27 13s. 6½d. (fn. 3)

During the wars with France the prior of these two cells paid in 1334 to Edward III. thirty-four marks annually for the farm of the priories. On 14 December, 1373, the king granted the custody of Panfield and Welle to Sir Hugh Fastolf so long as the war continued, on the payment to the crown of £40 per annum and £10 per annum to a certain monk or prior there residing. The custodian was to perform all customary duties incumbent on the priories and to keep the houses in good repair.

In July, 1379, a grant was made by Richard II, with the assent of the council, to Thomas de Woodstock, earl of Buckingham, the king's uncle, of £ 1,000 a year to maintain his rank as earl. This large sum was taken from the farms of various alien priories in the king's hands on account of the war; £40 of this amount was the rent paid by the custodian of the joint priories of Panfield and Welle. In June of the following year it was ordered if the earl of Buckingham died in the next expedition against France the executors of his will should receive the like sum for one year to discharge his debts. (fn. 4)

In 1381 Richard II granted the custody of. this priory to Sir John Devereux and Mary his wife and Joan their daughter, for their lives.

After the suppression of the alien priories by the Parliament of Leicester, Henry V in 1415 granted the priory and manor and rectory of Welle or Welles to the renowned warrior, John Woodhouse, to be held by the service of a rose on Midsummer Day.

On 10 March, 1469, Edward IV granted Welles Priory to the dean and canons of the free chapel of St. Stephen within the Palace of Westminster, (fn. 5) with whom it remained till the dissolution of that college in 1548, when it was granted to Osbert Mundeford and Thomas Gandy.


  • 1. Blomefield, Hist. of Norf. viii, 427-9; Dugdale, Mon. vi, 1010-12; Taylor, Index Monasticus, 10; Round, Cal. Doc. France, i, 156-62.
  • 2. Hund. R. (Rec. Com.), i, 461.
  • 3. Add. MSS. 6164, fol. 131-2.
  • 4. Pat. 3 Ric. II, pt. i, m. 40; 4 Rich. II, pt. i, m. 40.
  • 5. Ibid. 9 Edw. IV, pt. i, m. 5.